Hello, Little Kid from Kampongsom, We Meet Again

We owe big parts of ourselves to the places we were in.

That’s mostly why I have tried to keep Sihanoulk Ville out of my thoughts and travel list for the past few years. It’s the place where I was the most innocent, curious and calm. A newly-moved eight-year-old girl who had nothing much to amuse herself but a big yard full of trees and rocks, and a beach ten minutes away from her house.

Most of the fondest memories I have happened with Sihanoulk Ville’s notorious rain as the background sound: peacefully reading on top of a K’Khob tree, pretending I was surveying my kingdom, walking to school and never forgetting to spot any Sompeas plants on the way and collecting bomb fruits to impress my classmates, spending hours honing my Ckers Sat skills against an invisible opponent, and feeling a sense of absolute belonging, among the sunburnt faces of my neighbours and classmates.

In fact, after a few years of moving to Phnom Penh, I made a small, silent promise to myself that I’d move back to the town of magical peace once I graduate university.

And right when I graduated two years ago? The Chinese moved in, big time. Price of land shot up over the roof, casinos sprouted like rashes on an allergic skin and my tiny, silent dream? It got ignored, swept away under the rug, with me pretending it was never a serious dream to begin with anyway.

However, in these last two years, I made sure to never step foot into the town if I could help it. It’s as if the clash with the harsh reality would shatter my precious memories of what it was, and of who I was.

In my times of trouble and identity crisis(es) in Phnom Penh, I always go back to visit the scrawny Sihanoulk Ville kid who would split her allowance with the poor students in class, who would reread the same two books she had with equal enjoyment each time around. It’s funny as I grew up older, I yearned more and more to reach back to that age, to that self, to that stage of life.

But when a friend offered an interpretation opportunity to the ville, I had to jump in. There’s something safe about being the in-between, an interpreter of reality. Like whatever you find shouldn’t really be taken personally. You’re just a mouthpiece after all, a passing tube that should never contain the information for too long.

With that in mind, I embarked on the seven-hour bus ride to the south of the country. Two hours before we even arrived, I was already floored by tears. The random downpours, chilly cold air and mountains as far as you could see, were a signifier of home. I felt an affinity in my heart that I was again right where I belonged, where I could be the best version of myself. Affinity is a strong word, and I’ve only used it twice in my life. If what I felt for the town is not to be called affinity, I honestly don’t know what is.

As we got closer to the town though, changes began to be more visible. Trucks lining up as far as the eyes could see, traffic jams in places usually barren, and of course, Chinese signs and shops erected everywhere.

I went through my old neighborhood, one that I could not recognize from afar any longer. One that used to have 60% barren land and undergrowth, now literally full to the brim with towering buildings and construction sites.

The sidewalks full of bomb fruits I was so fond of, now is filled with rubbish and mud. My primary school, one in which the journey from one end to another used to make me think I was a lone forest ranger, is now covered with nothing but cemented courts and a few extra buildings.

Ironically, the one and only thing that hasn’t changed that much was my Gang Hua Chinese School, as if preserved through time all these fifteen years. I could still see that one broken basketball court where we used to pretend we knew how to play basketball. The well-kept Bodhi tree, rumored to house aloof spirits, but provided excellent hiding spots. The two gardens extended from the entrance to the flag poles, a place where I and my brother used to sit daily for what felt like hours, repeating the school song, picking up small leaves, as we waited for our mother to pick us up.

Even through all these heart-crunching changes, what I realized as I was on my way back to Phnom Penh was that… I was actually not altogether absolutely defeated body and spirit by the visit. Sihanoulk Ville has changed, and so have I.

Is it possible to go back to the perfect past? I doubt it. Even without the Chinese settling in, Kampongsom would have changed. The arrow of time cannot not travel backward, but it also cannot pierce my well-kept memories of what this town used to feel like, and what I used to be like.

Through the interviews, I learned that the Chinese are here because of the future of the town, but its past cannot be erased from the memories of people like me. No matter how much people believe it to be the new Shen Zhen, it’s still going to be old Sihanoulk Ville in my mind.

I take solace in the thought that even if I hadn’t moved, I could not stay that perfectly curious kid forever, and no matter what I and many believe me to be now, and in the future, I still have that sweet eight-year-old salty-skinned kid by my side for the rest of my life.


side note, if you haven’t followed me with your email, what are you even doing with your life? don’t miss out on my ramblies. Subscribe to this site, and go check out my more rational writings on self development and all things good on Wapatoa.com!

Mscheng’s back, and so’s the smartphone!

Howdy!

Well,  this is awkward… as we haven’t talked for so long. You may have swept me under the rug, or never even noticed that Mschengcorner was inactive for the last two years. It’s all fine, friends. We have our lives to live, and my life took such a turning point that my self-engrossed tendency to write for this blog has faded to almost nothingness.

But of course, like any true love, it is always burning at the back of my heart, waiting for the right moment to be rekindled. I guess the moment is right now! I’m more stable in  my other website, kinda learned the ropes of things, do not have a party-life going on any longer, and have a click-bait worthy title of getting a smart-phone back! This moment certainly is a magically perfect one to make a come back!

A bit of update about the blog

As many of you may have heard, I’ve been absent from Mschengcorner, but not from blogging entirely. For the past year, I’ve been writing almost one article per week for the great echoing chamber that is the internet on Wapatoa.com, my life and blood, my baby boy (or girl or them if the website chooses to identify as that later on).

For the big part of 2017 and 2018, apart from tangling my brain with partnership appointments, coming up with catchy titles for blogs, choosing what emojis to use for captions and getting mju into the office without getting caught, I was also struggling to see how I could write for both Wapatoa and Mschengcorner without getting everything mixed up. They are both my children of blood and finger sweats, but I must distinguish them somehow…

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From Visual Music(k)al

This objective took me a whole year, but I’ve found it! Before this change, Mschengcorner was a place where both sides of myself was laid out: A. The methodical, scientific side that reads research and books and share the knowledge and B. The goofy, petty side that spurs out lame jokes and gets very intimate at 1AM.

Naturally, Wapatoa.com is a more public, and specific website aimed to helping people become better. It’s not about Cheng (I mean, there’s no Cheng in the title). Wapatoa.com is for the people, so I’ll devote the “A” side of myself to it: the rational, information but still a bit goofy friend who just wants to help you get better.

PRIMARY

The petty, jealous, extremely personal “B” side of life? I’ll leave it all to here! So get ready, bitches, Cheng is back!

On a sidenote, Wapatoa.com is very cautious with the pictures we use on our articles, but well, here at Mscheng I just choose whatever Tumblr image that fits the mood! This will continue to be so, if you don’t like that, sue me! (That was just a farce. Please don’t sue me, I’m poor.) But I’m serious, Mschengcorner is for my personal enjoyment, so I’ll continue to use pictures that are easy to find and fit the mood! Maybe I’ll take up smartphone photography and supply my own pics, eh? We’ll see how this goes!

Therefore, please head on to Wapatoa.com for wholesome, self-improvement and artistic gimmicks and do not forget to head back here for some intimate, self-deprecating jokes! For once, you can have the best of both world!

A bit of update about Cheng’s phone

Now to the real meat of the article, the return of the forbidden phone. For better or for worse, I’ve parted with my dear old Nokia phone after 3.5 years (or was it 4 years?) of relationship. Why so? Many things have happened, the biggest of all, loneliness.

Yes, yes. I’m lonely.
Life as a graduated adult is not all partying glamor and rolling on money as it seemed. When I was in school, surrounded by 20+ friends all the time, it was easy to cut off social media and chatting apps altogether. I could just wait the night to tell them the next day. It was like highschool, but with drinking permits.

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From Go Flores Go

But everything changed when we graduated.
Now, everyone is busy with their work (as they rightfully are so). I am also busy with running Wapatoa as a startup. When we don’t frequently keep in touch online, it’s easy to go on a whole week without having any fun social interactions except for work and meetings and more work.

I must admit, I was miserable for the past few months and didn’t even know what the cause was, until I went to Thailand with a borrowed phone from my sister to keep me from getting lost till I die of some horribly funny mishaps.

For that one week, I got access to my friends back in Phnom Penh, access to google maps (a literal life savior) and most importantly, to meme hashtags on Tumblr and Reddit. My life was bright again, fun seemed to ooze out of the phone and my pores, the wifi-connection brought me again human connection.

So YUP! I decided to get a smart-phone when I headed back, and here I am, with a solid Iphone on my left even as I am writing this now! It’s been a wild few weeks, to say at least since I got the old monster back. The ancient habit of over-checking phones has resurfaced, but I think I’m better at catching it (with the help of Screen Time, of course, lol).

Still no regrets though. I voluntarily came back to smart phone with needs long unfulfilled. For the past three years, I felt most acutely the pains of not being connected: loss of distant/busy friendships, loss of convenient apps like Plumvillage meditation app, google maps and photos taking, and not to mention, a source of meme harvesting and distribution.

I’d like very much to be that cool hipster who lives alone in the woods with no internet, who drinks hot tea and reads and writes all day, who has friends over for the weekends and go on crazy, undocumented adventures. And maybe one day I will be, but not now. Not when I live in the city and get lost so often, when all my friends and the whole society are online, when I read and write blogs for a living… an iPhone is definitely a source of joy. 

Featured image from Phonethings
(cuz i can’t take a picture of my phone with my phone. You feel me?)

 

AhCheng in Wondercity

Today, I got so lost that I drove myself right out of the city without knowing.

And it was not even the first time something like this happened.

 

If you’re close with me, there is no reason why you don’t know I’m practically dumb when it comes to navigation.

I met up with some friends in Toul Sleng, and we decided to get to a place near the Monument of Independence. I was the only one on a bike, and confident with my new knowledge of this city’s streets, I proudly devised a plan to get there, without getting lost.

News flash, I got lost, so so bad.

 

I decided to go right on a street I did not know much of, and found myself near Sonsom Kosol Pagoda. It was so unexpected that I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland, popping into unexpected places, except I was not 12 and Phnom Penh was no wonderland. But I was not completely hopeless. I had a hunch that if I kept on going, I would land on Kbal Thnol Bridge and would only be a short distance from the Monument of Independence. So far still pretty okay until for God knows why, I decided to turn right at the bridge which meant this gal was heading to Chak Angre area.

 

Silly me still thought I was on my way back into the heart of the city. I drove and drove under the 2 o’clock sun. My dread kept on increasing exponentially out of habit. You know, once your lover has criticized you very unkindly of how dumb you are at navigation, it just stuck.  As a counterpoint maybe, my mind kept playing Phil Kaye’s and Sarah Kay’s poem, “When Love Arrives”, the bit where he said, “Love knows where she’s going. It just might take her two hours longer than she planned.”

Though it was sweet, I knew my friends would not appreciate me being late. The anxiety of finding the right route kept on mounting and mounting until I saw a billboard saying it was the way to Kandal Province. Apparently, I had been travelling to a city in the last 15 minutes, just not to the city I wanted to be in.

 

I took a U-turn and thought of the literally hundred of others of times I got lost in this small city I’d been in for the last 10 years. And it struck me, no matter how lost I got, I have always managed to find my way at the end.

 

And thinking back put a smile on my face.

 

Lesson of the day: don’t take right at Kbal Thnol Bridge if you wish to stay in Phnom Penh.

 

Another lesson of the day: It does not matter if you’ve lost your way. You’ll get there as long as you keep finding your way back.

Ten Ten Taren Ten Ten Ten

You are my ice cream man.

And no, not the kind I know you’re all thinking about,
but genuine ice cream. The kind that makes kids run wild after an ice cream seller on a September afternoon, screaming, “Uncle, uncle! Give me one!”

Every time I meet you, my inner bells launch a series of off-tune jingles, which sound a lot like holidays and naps on the beach. Your sparkling eyes remind me too much of a shining droplet of juicy goodness reflected off of sunlight. And when we talk, I feel like you’re the coconut to my ka-rem, the mold to my orange soda ice cream. The irony is, with you, I am the one who melts.

 

But you are also not my ice cream man.

Because I remember living in a second floor of a run down building. Cheap white paints, narrow stairs and a busy street. We never got much money to go around between the four of us, but I always managed to save some for you.

Then it was time to wait.

And wait.

And wait. Until that familiar jingles come around the corner. I’d scream at the top of my lungs, from the bottom of my heart. Stop. Stop. Notice me. I want you. Stop.

But he just went on his merry way, about to make other kids happy no doubt. That’s how you’re not my ice cream man, because I shouted, he didn’t hear;

you heard and you still went on your way.

 

 

Nights Like This

Nights like this is when I want to cry- for the toddlers starving, the thirty year olds hiding in fear from bombs, and for the girls who hate their waist lines, and the guys who can’t cry.

Nights like this, I want to wail, for the people who’ve gone past wailing- who sit in silence contemplating the best way to commit suicide, for the parents watching their only son die.

Nights like this, I want to cry.

Finding Sita

The air hung heavy with a mild flavor of coconut oil floating no doubt from people’s skin, and hair (and probably their food, too). Despite my exhaustion over the past 2 hours of standing on a roller coaster of a train ride, I couldn’t help but stole occasional glances to the mother and son on the left. The slender, tanned looking lady in plain orange sari next to me was hand-feeding her seven-year-old son a mixture of cooked rice and something smelling suspiciously like curry. I observed the way her fingers moved to collect stubbornly scattering pieces of rice, and made soft contact with her son’s luscious lips. Where were these two heading to, I wonder, on a Saturday morning no less. Were they travelling to see the father and husband who was probably slaving away in a distant province just so she could prepare homemade curry rice for her young son on a train where most people would rather buy lunch from the loudly, yet strangely melodically, yelling sellers instead? There seemed to be a certain degree of understanding between the mother and the son. The way his mouth opened, in sync with his mother rhythmic fingers.
Swirl, rice, pork, swirl, pat, feed.
Chew, open, chew.
Surrounded by such familiarity, by such synchronicity, one couldn’t help but felt, rather acutely of just how much of a foreigner one was.

Yes, I was racially foreigner, and alienated appearance-wise- the only slant-eyed Chinese looking Asian in this sea of wide-eyed, heavy-lipped, Indian looking people. But there seemed to be another factor of difference, bubbling from deep within. These people had their own rhythm of traversing and conversing. Me? I was still largely lost, both metaphorically and literally. I was lost as to what I would like to do with my life after the trip, and lost as to what station I should leave the train owing to the absolutely unhelpful English announcement from the train radio which sounded neither Sri Lankan, nor English.

Having caught a slightly uncomfortable shift in the eyes of the busy mother, I knew she must have caught me staring. How rude of me. To avoid further embarrassing the unsuspecting mother and child, I averted my gaze to the square box of scenery, running indifferently at the son’s left instead. Green, brown, blue and white shapes mashed together, barely distinguishable from one another. I recalled the brilliantly lit jungle of Anuradhapura with occasional bands of wide eyed monkeys and white birds circling never faraway from me yesterday. This was the famous land of Lanka, with its rich jungle, and richer inhabitants. This was where Ravana, the demon king, lived and cried, and fought. This was the land where Sita spent a large potion of her life being imprisoned, waiting for her husband, Rama to rescue her. And at that instance, I realized,

I was Rama, full of hopes and dreams, cocky to a certain limit, seeking something (happiness? fulfillment? love?) in the vast island of Lanka.

I was also Sita, abducted, lonely and lost, full of regrets for past foolish mistakes, waiting for a redemption, a salvation from the current episode of nightmare.

I was both lost and seeking at the same time, depressed, and hopeless and headstrong and hopeful.

I was Rama and Sita was me.